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28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books of 2011, hands down
I get e-mails from time to time offering me electronic copies of small press titles for review. I usually say yes, with the caveat that I may never actually read it or get past the first chapter. Most of them aren't my cup of tea. Once in a while though there's a real home run. After the Apocalypse, a collection of short stories by Maureen F. McHugh, is a home...
Published on November 9, 2011 by Justin Landon

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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the end
This collection of stories is labeled After the Apocalypse. It is really not what most would expect; for the most part it deals with individual disaster. There are 9 stories.
One does deal with zombies, but they seem to be under control, another about a young girl in China trying to get a job after a bird flu plague, a lady living out west during economic hard times,...
Published on December 1, 2011 by wogan


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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the end, December 1, 2011
This review is from: After the Apocalypse: Stories (Paperback)
This collection of stories is labeled After the Apocalypse. It is really not what most would expect; for the most part it deals with individual disaster. There are 9 stories.
One does deal with zombies, but they seem to be under control, another about a young girl in China trying to get a job after a bird flu plague, a lady living out west during economic hard times, a young boy with amnesia after a dirty bomb goes off, computer problems, people flying to France(literally), a medical test gone wrong, one with a mother who has contracted disease and the last what most would expect - a mother and her child trying to get to Canada after the breakdown of society.

The reoccurring theme seems to be a scarcity of power. People are existing, living and getting by no matter what. For most it is a mundane tale of an aftermath of an event that had the power to change lives. For many one can see no moral to the story and sometime no hope - just existence.
If you are hoping for huge catastrophic worldwide descriptions of an apocalypse this is not the book for you. It is more of a literary style of stories of existence.
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28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books of 2011, hands down, November 9, 2011
This review is from: After the Apocalypse: Stories (Paperback)
I get e-mails from time to time offering me electronic copies of small press titles for review. I usually say yes, with the caveat that I may never actually read it or get past the first chapter. Most of them aren't my cup of tea. Once in a while though there's a real home run. After the Apocalypse, a collection of short stories by Maureen F. McHugh, is a home run.

I'd never heard of McHugh prior to receiving an e-mail about her collection (which is my fault). It turns out she's published four novels and over twenty short stories. Her first novel, China Mountain Zhang, was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula Award. In 1996 she won a Hugo Award for her short story The Lincoln Train. After reading this collection, none of that surprises me. Many of the stories in this collection are "award worthy" - especially the three new ones that are published here for the first time.

As the title implies, all of the stories in this collection deal with what comes after the apocalypse. Notice that's a lower case apocalypse. While some of the stories delve into the aftermath of the "big-one", some are more about a personal cataclysm. All of them are told from a very tight point of view in a consistently haunting prose. McHugh's characters are all real people, with real problems, who lived before she opened the window into their story and will continue to live after it's closed. It's rare that I enjoy short fiction this much. It's even more rare when I'd put a 200 page short story collection against any novel I've read this year.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worlds that End With Both a Bang and a Whimper, December 19, 2011
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This review is from: After the Apocalypse: Stories (Paperback)
Maureen McHugh is well known in science fiction circles, mainly in the circles that admire high quality, character centered scifi. Back in the 90s, she debuted with a hugely awesome novel-in-stories (before that term was conceived of) called China Mountain Zhang (read that book, too!). She went on to write a number of other novels, and one other collection (Mothers and Other Monsters, also recommended), and has been spending time writing Alternate Reality Games and is now writing film scripts. So the scifi short story world is always very eager to read when a story of hers appears. This collections revolves thematically around the idea of apocalypses, endings, both literal and metaphorical, both in the epic scifi sort of way, and in the ordinary individual's self-implosion sort of way. The stories range from zombie apocalypses to the loss of water or energy sort of apocalypses. And the last story--the title story--absolutely destroyed me. McHugh's characters are more real than any I've encountered in science fiction, and her plots are too real for comfort.

Cover comment: Fantastic design that makes the book look old and battered, but isn't in fact. Very cool.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I should read more short stories . . ., July 4, 2012
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Susan Jones (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: After the Apocalypse: Stories (Paperback)
Because this collection was fascinating. The last short story collection I read was Dave Eggers' "How To Be Hungry," which is fantastic, and this is just as good.

I think it's a shame that some of the reviews give so many details about each story, because one of the fun things is not knowing where the story is going until you get into it. The stories are definitely all tied in to modern, end-times fantasies, and explore them using techniques from Sunday Time Magazine feature writing to magical realism. McHugh is more effective in some writing styles than others, but all the stories are definitely worth reading.

The thing I liked best was the vivid characterizations in each story. Unlike some other reviewers, I felt the voices and perspectives in each story were extremely individual and effective.

My particular favorites were "Useless Things," which I found an extremely moving portrayal of someone living on the edge of personal apocalypse, and gradually losing the things that she valued most about herself; "The Effects of Centrifugal Forces," which is shatteringly sad; and the eponymous final story, which basically tells us what I suspect is true: even after the apocalypse, people will be exactly the same as they were before.

All in all, a very worthwhile collection. I plan to read McHugh's other work.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings, February 8, 2012
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A reader (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: After the Apocalypse: Stories (Paperback)
I'm not sure what to think of this collection. It was slight, a quick read, and it had certain charms to it. Some of the stories were quite weak, and as a whole the stories have a half-baked quality. In particular, I was almost personally insulted by "Going to France" - it seemed like the sort of writerly self-indulgence that one can impose upon ones MFA classmates, but expecting anyone to pay money to read such a thing requires a rather appalling degree of audacity. "The Kingdom of the Blind" was also a conceptual exercise masquerading as a story, and as such was tedious. But most of the stories were better than that.

The underlying "apocalypse" theme--apocalypses both personal and societal--works and it doesn't, like so much else about this collection. I like the title and I understand that it need not be applicable to all of the stories it encompasses, but on the other hand it does create a certain expectation. Furthermore, I don't think the enjoyable but lightweight zombie yarn that opens the book sets the right tone for what is for the most part a collection of modest character studies. "Special Economics," "The Kingdom of the Blind," and "Honeymoon" really have nothing to do with apocalypses. At the same time, there is something interesting about the exploration of intimate personal experiences in the wake of some sort of dramatic societal collapse, and I enjoyed that dimension of it.

I also appreciated the author's willingness to introduce protagonists who were difficult to like. Some may have found the title story protagonist to be a cheap shock, but I thought it worked. For certain people at least, all bets would be off in the scenario.

UPDATE: I felt I should add that at the meeting of my book group, about 20 people were in attendance and most strongly liked the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid and Powerful Prose, Great Variance of Subject Matter, February 2, 2013
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Amazon Customer (Incheon, South Korea) - See all my reviews
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Despairing about the proliferation of the generally repetitive short story collection? Fear and tremble not, for After the Apocalypse is here to save the day.

Maureen F. McHugh's collection continually conjured up the word "solid" and not in a patronizing way that one might use that word to politely describe an artistic effort that follows all the rules yet fails to captivate one's attention or stimulate any of the other nerves in want of stimulation from art--but in the sense that it was taken in as a dose of fresh air in comparison to cripplingly overworked prose and/or gimmickry-qua-formal-innovation that functions as a blanket to cover the hollowed out innards of "the story."

As much as I really do love innovative, acrobatic prose--replete with highly varied word choice and a striving for originality at the level of the sentence and the overall tonal vision--I also find myself able to see the value in the simple sentence (when put to good narrative use, of course). This calls to mind something I read recently as part of George Saunders' preface to the latest edition of his debut collection CivilWarLand In Bad Decline:

In grad school I had grown suspicious of conventional literary beauty, wary of what I thought of as, for example, the literary triple descriptor: "Todd sat at the black table, the ebony plane, the dark-hued bearer of various glasses and plates, whose white, disk-shaped, saucer-like presences mocking his futility, his impotence, his inability to act."

Christ, I had come to feel, just say it: "Todd sat at the table."

This book also functions as a shock-to-the-system antidote to the naval-gazing narcissistic focus upon the singular character (often a poorly veiled stand-in for the writer) that is abundant in fiction and not merely in coming-of-age novels et al, but also in "innovative" short story collections. I recently posted a thought about this on a highly trafficked social networking site, which hyperbolically sums up this long-simmering feeling about the need for less singularly focused art:

There is no protagonist in real life. It's an ensemble cast of an immensity beyond practical quantification. Scatter the illusion of the central "I" and open up the floodgates. I'd like art to reflect this more often. Films starring no one. Novels with more POVs than pages.

After the Apocalypse is a heaven-sent answer to this desire for artists to portray a wider spectrum of humanity.

--Violent sociopathic criminals struggle against the elements and each other in a cliché-free and grittily realistic zombie narrative.

--Chinese biotech factory workers dance on street corners to Sri Lankan hip hop and battle their corporate master's cycle of tyrannical debt.

--A woman's internet business branches out from making infant dolls for bereaved parents into more lucrative adult-only goods, while dealing with the struggle between being kind to strangers down on their luck and having to be more suspicious and reserved towards said strangers out of rational self-preservation.

--A journalist seeks answers about a boy who's undergone a radical identity shift after a terrorist act has torn his community and family asunder.

--Computer programmers delve into the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence (and the nature of consciousness) while prodding a virtual medical database during their routine graveyard shifts.

--People contemplate abandoning America...

--A McDonald's employee asserts herself, undergoes the risks of being a guinea pig for medical research, and takes herself on a honeymoon.

--Mad Cow Disease unfolds within an unconventional family unit.

--Society collapses and people react in a multitude of ways--gratitude returns but also morphs into base selfishness. Silver linings are birthed and snuffed out unevenly.

A common theme throughout all of this is a fear of economic and social upheaval. It's currently pretty apt for US fiction to be concerned with such menacing vibrations. McHugh displays a wide reach of knowledge about many subjects and shows a real talent for sculpting vivid characters out of the clay of the wide-angled view as well. The visions are often breathtakingly bleak but there's room to exhale and reflect in the space between fact and fiction, which is a truly vital service for fiction writers to provide.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Many Ways to End a World - And What They Say about Us, June 5, 2012
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This collection of short fiction explores several ways a world could end, from the Zombie Apocalypse to massive economic collapse. What sounds like a potential downer of a collection is -- surprisingly -- a real joy to read. McHugh's prose is clean and clear, and her characters are brave, sympathetic, and contradictory.

And the questions! What happens to liberal values when every day is a life or death struggle? When a computer program shows signs of conscious thought, is it murder to turn it off? How ethical is it, really, to ask people to volunteer for drug trials when there's a risk of terrible consequences?

This is quiet brilliance, dressed up in a shambling, stinking zombie's clothes. Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good reading!, May 6, 2012
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I enjoyed reading this book very much. The stories were all rather unusual and thought-provoking. It's scary that some of these are pretty much right on target in terms of what will happen when we DO have some sort of apocalypse - and with the way things are going, nothing is getting worked on and our climate will change drastically. The only thing I didn't like was one description of my hometown, Albuquerque, as not attractive even before the climate change. While it sounds like the author knows New Mexico, she clearly needs a lesson in the better aspects of ABQ before the climate change happens. Other than that, I very much liked that story and all the other ones.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exposition, Development, But Then What?, February 12, 2012
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I bought this Kindle edition after reading a rave review by Michael Dirda of the Washington Post. Maureen F. McHugh really knows how to set up a story and hook the reader. Tremendous turns of phrase as well. I did miss solid endings in most of the stories though. In many of them, the action just...stopped. I understand why she does that, I think. It's as if she's saying, "There are no neat endings. Life, especially after the apocalypse, is not linear with a beginning, middle, and ending. I'll set up the story for you, create some interesting characters, but you, dear reader, must do the rest. Like you yourself would have to do if *you* found yourself alive After the Apocalypse." And that's legitimate. But not for every story. If some of these stories had a solid conclusion, even one you didn't like, this collection would easily gain my fifth star.

Fans of modern science fiction and elegant writing will like this book a lot. This Kindle edition is definitely worth the price. A couple of typos but nothing serious. The stories, and the book, are short. But they all grab you and stick with you. It's where and how they leave you off that I think needs improvement.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring and Zero Closure, October 29, 2014
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Salvatore Lazzaro (Islip Terrace, NY United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: After the Apocalypse: Stories (Paperback)
Very boring. Most of the stories just end in the middle. Do not expect any type of closure from most of the stories. Its a shame too because I enjoyed her writing but the stories almost seemed like ideas she had for novels that she never finished.
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After the Apocalypse: Stories
After the Apocalypse: Stories by Maureen F. McHugh (Paperback - November 8, 2011)
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